Steamship Authority

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Woods Hole, Martha's Vineyard and Nantucket Steamship Authority
d/b/a The Steamship Authority
The MV Sankaty docked at the authority's terminal in Woods Hole, Massachusetts
The MV Sankaty docked at the authority's terminal in Woods Hole
Area servedCape Cod and the Islands
LocaleSoutheastern Massachusetts
Transit typeFerry
Number of lines2
Chief executiveRobert B. Davis (General Manager)
HeadquartersFalmouth, MA (regulatory body)
Woods Hole, MA (ferry service)
Began operation1960 (1960)[1]
Number of vehicles10 ferry vessels[2]
System map

Woods Hole
Vineyard Haven
Oak Bluffs

The Woods Hole, Martha's Vineyard and Nantucket Steamship Authority, doing business as The Steamship Authority (SSA), is the statutory regulatory body for all ferry operations between mainland Massachusetts and the islands of Martha's Vineyard and Nantucket, as well an operator of ferry services between the mainland and the islands. It is the only ferry operator to carry automobiles to and from the islands.[3] The Authority also operates several freight vessels, thus serving as the main link for shipping any commercial goods that are not transported using the airports on Nantucket or Martha's Vineyard.


Early Nantucket service[edit]

The Steamship Authority's former terminal in Woods Hole, razed in 2018.

The Steamship Authority's roots trace back to the 1833-established Nantucket Steamboat Company.[4]

Demand for regular steamship service between Cape Cod and Nantucket increased following the opening of the Cape Cod Railroad's Hyannisport station in 1854. The same year, the company built a terminal near the rail station and renamed itself the Nantucket and Cape Cod Steamboat Company. The company's two vessels, Telegraph and Massachusetts, now began to only serve Hyannis, rather than making the longer trip to Woods Hole and New Bedford.[4] In 1855, the steamships were replaced by the Island Home, the company's first vessel specifically engineered for the Nantucket Sound.[4]

Early Martha's Vineyard service[edit]

Following the opening of the Hyannis terminal, the New Bedford, Vineyard and Nantucket Steamboat Company was formed in 1854 to provide service with the Eagle's Wing between the namesake destinations and Woods Hole. When the competing Island Home service began in 1885, though, Eagle's Wing ceased serving Nantucket (as well as New Bedford) due to low ridership.[4]

The railroad station at Woods Hole, which opened in 1872, had a similar effect on steamship demand.[5] Both the railroad and early steamboat services were at one point owned by the New York, New Haven and Hartford Railroad (NYNHH).[4]

20th century consolidation[edit]

The NYNHH, realizing financial troubles, sold the ferry services known at the time as the New England Steamship Company to Massachusetts Steamship Lines on December 31, 1945.[6] In 1948, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts announced its intent to consolidate the private ferry services into a state-owned entity. This created the New Bedford, Woods Hole, Martha's Vineyard and Nantucket Steamship Authority, which began in 1949.[7] The Massachusetts legislature dropped "New Bedford" from the company's name in 1960.[8] The last steamship in regular service was the Nobska, which ran the Woods Hole–Nantucket route until 1973.[4]

Several current vessels utilize names that have been a part of Island culture for many years. The "Nantucket" name has existed across four ships: the current MV Nantucket (1974-), the SS Nantucket (1957-1987, renamed Naushon in 1974), the steamboat Nobska (1925-1973, known as Nantucket from 1925 to 1958), and the original Nantucket, the which saw service from 1886-1910. Similarly, "Martha's Vineyard" has seen service on three vessels: the current MV Martha's Vineyard (1993-), the SS Martha's Vineyard (1923-1956, known as SS Islander until 1928), as well as the steamboat Martha's Vineyard (1871-1910). Additionally the MV Island Home (2007-), MV Sankaty (1994-), and MV Gay Head (1989-) have all seen service on older steamships, the Island Home (1855-1890), the Sankaty (1911-1924), and the Gay Head (1891-1924).

Ferry service[edit]

Martha's Vineyard[edit]

Frequent passenger and auto ferry service is operated to the Martha's Vineyard towns of Vineyard Haven year round, and to Oak Bluffs from Memorial Day to Labor Day from the mainland terminal in Woods Hole, Massachusetts. Sailing time is approximately 45 minutes to both Vineyard Haven and Oak Bluffs.

In early 2001, the SSA purchased the 130-foot (40 m) MV Schamonchi, along with the New Bedford-Martha's Vineyard route. She provided passenger-only service on this route until 2003, generating operating losses of about $800,000 per year. The vessel has since been sold, and a year-round high-speed catamaran service is now operated between New Bedford and Vineyard Haven (and seasonally to Oak Bluffs) by Seastreak. [9]


Year round passenger and auto ferry, as well as freight service is operated to Nantucket from the mainland terminal in Hyannis, Massachusetts. Sailing time to Nantucket takes approximately 2 hours and 15 minutes. A one-hour, passenger only catamaran service, is operated with the MV Iyanough from mid April through late December from Hyannis to Nantucket. From 2000 to 2007, this service was operated with the MV Flying Cloud.

State regulatory body[edit]

In addition providing ferry service, the Steamship Authority (hence the name) regulates the many commercial aspects of ferry operations to and from the Islands (those that are not regulated by the US Coast Guard).[1] All scheduled passenger ferry operations carrying over 40 people to and from the Islands must, by law, be approved by the Steamship Authority.[1][8] This generally precludes any ferry service that would directly compete with the Steamship Authority, essentially giving it a legal monopoly on all auto ferry service to the Islands.

However, approval has been granted to other companies to operate smaller passenger ferry operations to the islands, including Freedom Cruises (Harwich Port to Nantucket), Seastreak (New Bedford to Oak Bluffs and Nantucket),[10] Rhode Island Fast Ferry (North Kingstown, Rhode Island to Oak Bluffs , the Pied Piper Edgartown Ferry (Falmouth to Edgartown).

Services established prior to May 1973, which include Hy-Line Cruises (Hyannis, Nantucket, and Oak Bluffs) and the Island Queen (Falmouth to Oak Bluffs), are allowed to provide certain services as grandfathered carriers due to their existence prior to current regulations. However, any additional new services must be licensed by the Authority.[8]


The Steamship Authority is governed by a five-person board composed of one resident from Nantucket, Martha's Vineyard, Falmouth, Barnstable, and New Bedford, with each resident confirmed by the appropriate local government entity. The board's current chair is James Malkin of Martha's Vineyard.[8]

The authority also has an advisory board known as the Port Council, composed of one resident from Barnstable, Fairhaven, Falmouth, Nantucket, New Bedford, Oak Bluffs, and Tisbury. The current chair of this board is Edward Anthes-Washburn of New Bedford.[8]


The Steamship Authority currently operates ten vessels. Six passenger ferries are predominantly used for transporting passengers and personal cargo, five of which also accept cars and trucks. The remaining four ferries are open-top and primarily used for larger trucks and freight, although ordinary passengers and automobiles are usually allowed, space permitting.

Vessels are maintained at a facility on South Street in Fairhaven, Massachusetts.[8]

Image Vessel Service began[2] Type[2] Route(s) served[2] Notes
MV Nantucket August 2017.png MV Nantucket 1974 ROPAX Hyannis–Nantucket (winters)
Woods Hole–Martha's Vineyard (year-round)
Built in Jacksonville[2]
MV Eagle.jpg MV Eagle 1987 ROPAX Hyannis–Nantucket (year-round) Built by McDermott Shipyard (Morgan City)[2]
MV Katama.jpg MV Katama 1988 Freight Woods Hole–Martha's Vineyard Sister ship of MV Gay Head. To exit service and be replaced by MV Monomoy. [2]
MV Gay Head 1989 Freight Hyannis–Nantucket Sister ship of MV Katama. To exit service and be replaced by MV Aquinnah. [2]
Martha's Vineyard ferry.jpg MV Martha's Vineyard 1993 ROPAX Woods Hole–Martha's Vineyard (year-round) Built by Atlantic Marine (Jacksonville)[2]
MV Sankaty.jpg MV Sankaty 1994 Freight Woods Hole–Martha's Vineyard Built in 1981 by Rysco Shipyard[2]
MV Governor 2014.png MV Governor 1998 Freight Woods Hole–Martha's Vineyard Backup passenger vessel, formerly Governor's Island ferry[2]
MV Island Home.jpg MV Island Home 2007 ROPAX Woods Hole–Martha's Vineyard (year-round) Built by VT Halter Marine (Moss Point)[2]
MV Iyanough 2007 Passenger Hyannis–Nantucket (summers) High-speed catamaran, built by Gladding-Hearn Shipbuilding (Somerset),[2] named after Hyannis sachem Iyannough
MV Woods Hole August 2021.jpg MV Woods Hole 2016 ROPAX Hyannis–Nantucket (summers)
Woods Hole–Martha's Vineyard (year-round)
Built by Conrad Shipyard (Morgan City)[2]

Historic fleet[edit]

This list includes earlier vessels that were operated by private companies, many of which were incorporated into the modern Steamship Authority.

Image Vessel Service began Service ended Notes
Eagle[11] 1818 1818 First commercial steamboat service to Nantucket, sailed from New Bedford from May to September until being sold due to low ridership[11]
Connecticut[11][4] 1824 1824 Operated for two months[4]
Hamilton[4] 1828 1828 Operated for two months, ceased service due to low ridership[4]
Marco Bozzaris[4] 1829 1832
Telegraph[4] 1832 1858 Replaced by Island Home[4]
Massachusetts[4] 1842 1858 Replaced by Island Home[4]
Naushon[4] 1846 1848 Renamed News Boy after sale[citation needed]
Canonicus[4] 1851 1861
George Law[4] 1854 1854 Chartered for one month[4]
Metacomet[4] 1854 1854
Eagle's Wing[4] 1854 1861 Destroyed in a fire, engine was salvaged for the Monohansett
Souv-Island Home.jpg Island Home 1855 1890 Namesame of the modern MV Island Home, later converted to a coal barge[4]
Jersey Blue[citation needed] 1856 1857
Sarah Stevens[4] 1860
HSL-s70203-Monohansett maybe at West Chop Wharf.jpg Monohansett 1862 1902[4] Chartered by the federal government to carry dispatches to U.S. Navy ships in the American Civil War from August 1862 to June 1865[12]
Martha's Vineyard (1871 steamboat).jpg Martha's Vineyard 1871[4] 1910[4]
Hsl-River queen-neg.jpg River Queen 1871 1893 Purchased from the Newport Steamboat Company,[4] sold to the Mount Vernon & Marshall Hall Steamboat Company[13]
Hsl-mv5032.jpg Nantucket 1886 1910[4] Namesake of the modern MV Nantucket
Mv5035-Steamer Gay Head.jpg Gay Head 1891 1924 Built to replace Island Home[4]
Hsl-pc-steamboat pier and Uncatena pre-1908.jpg Uncatena 1902 1928 Last sidewheeler in service, built to replace Monohansett[4]
Hsl-Sankaty-neg.jpg Sankaty 1911[4] 1924 Built to replace Martha's Vineyard,[4] sold to the New England Steamship Company[14]
Steamer Martha's Vineyard, Massachusetts Steamship Line (75134).jpg SS Islander (1923–28)[15]
SS Martha's Vineyard (1928–56)
1923 1956 Built to replace Gay Head,[4] sold to Rhode Island Steamship Lines[16]
Nobska gov.jpg Nobska (1925–28, 1956–73)
Nantucket (1928–56)[15]
1925 1973 Whistle installed on the Eagle in 1987,[15] sold to Friends of Nobska in 1988[16]
New Bedford[16] 1928[4] 1942[4] Requisitioned by the War Shipping Administration and participated in the Invasion of Normandy[16][6]
Naushon[16] 1929[4] 1942[4] Requisitioned by the War Shipping Administration and participated in the Invasion of Normandy[16][6]
Mercury[citation needed]
Gay Head (LSM 286)[citation needed] 1947
Woods Hole -- Martha's Vineyard Ferry (77253).jpg Islander[6] 1947 c. 1951 Built in 1901, originally the Hackensack[6]
Islander at Governors Island, June 2009.JPG MV Islander 1950 2007 First diesel vessel, sold to Governor's Island[16]
MV Naushon Sept 1979.jpg SS Nantucket (1957–74)
Naushon (1974-87)[15][16]
1957 1987 [17] Sold to Bay State Cruises[16]
MV Uncatena 1965[4] 1993 Lengthened by 52 feet in 1971,[15] sold to Casino Miami and renamed Entertainer[16]
Auriga[citation needed] 1973 c. 1989
Flying Cloud[18] 2000 2007 Catamaran high-speed ferry, sold to Gran Cacique in 2008 and now the MV Gran Cacique IV in Venezuela[19]
Schamonchi[16] 2001 2003 Built in 1978,[16][20] sold into private ownership in 2005[16]

Accidents and incidents[edit]

In 2007, it was reported that Steamship Authority and Hy-Line ferries were dumping sewage into Nantucket Sound. The process was legal as ferries are permitted to release waste once 3 miles (4.8 km) offshore. The authority later announced it would pump sewage off ferries at its terminals,[21] which it did so beginning in 2011.[citation needed]

During the first four months of 2018, 549 ferry trips were cancelled between Martha’s Vineyard and Falmouth due to mechanical problems on the ferry boats. The majority of the mechanical problems occurred on the Woods Hole-Vineyard Haven route. The rate of cancellations in 2018 was approximately 15 times the yearly average of breakdowns and cancellations.[22] A private consultant brought in to find the underlying cause behind the cancellations found mismanagement with "penny wise, pound foolish" investments and competing factions within the organization.[23]

On the night of June 16, 2017, Iyanough crashed into a jetty in Hyannis harbor, injuring fifteen of the fifty-seven people aboard.[24][25][26][27]

The Steamship Authority was the victim of a ransomware attack in June 2, 2021, which affected the ticketing and reservation system. [28] The Steamship Authority did not pay a ransom, and the website was operational again by June 12.[29]


  1. ^ a b c "About". The Steamship Authority. Retrieved December 12, 2015.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n "Vessels". The Steamship Authority. Retrieved March 27, 2020.
  3. ^ "The Steamship Authority". The Steamship Authority. Retrieved March 27, 2020.
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z aa ab ac ad ae af ag ah ai aj ak al James P. Warbasse, Jr. "From Sail to Steam to Diesel" (PDF). Woods Hole Historical Museum. Retrieved March 27, 2020.
  5. ^ Ashe, Ivy (July 11, 2013). "A History Shaped by State Politics". Vineyard Gazette. Retrieved March 29, 2020.
  6. ^ a b c d e Dunlop, Tom (July 30, 1999). "Steamers of 20th Century Bound Island Ever Closer to Mainland". Vineyard Gazette. Retrieved March 27, 2020.
  7. ^ Clark, Barbara (May 1, 2015). "'Steamboats to Martha's Vineyard and Nantucket'". The Barnstable Patriot. Retrieved March 27, 2020.
  8. ^ a b c d e f "History & Organization". The Steamship Authority. Retrieved March 27, 2020.
  9. ^ Kinsella, James (July 5, 2005). An Old Ferry Sails to New York; Schamonchi Reborn as Party Boat. Vineyard Gazette Online.
  10. ^ "Routes & Schedules for NYC, NJ, Martha's Vineyard | Seastreak Ferries".
  11. ^ a b c Jenness, Amy (April 23, 2015). "This Week in Nantucket History – Steaming Home". Yesterday's Island. Retrieved March 27, 2020.
  12. ^ Banks, Charles E., The History of Martha's Vineyard, Mass., Volume I. (Dukes County Historical Society, 1911)
  13. ^ Turner, Harry B. The Story of the Island Steamers (The Inquirer and Mirror Press, 1910) [1]
  14. ^ The Dukes County Intelligencer. Vol. 24, No. 4. May 1983
  15. ^ a b c d e "Final Chapter: The Islander and Other Bygone Ferries". (August 1, 2010). Martha's Vineyard Magazine.
  16. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m Zimmermann, Karl (August 1, 2010). "Final Chapter: The Islander and Other Bygone Ferries". Martha's Vineyard Magazine. Retrieved March 27, 2020.
  17. ^ "Steam-Powered Ferry Makes Its Final Run". (October 31, 1987). The Boston Globe.
  18. ^ "Cloud lingers over fast ferry". Cape Cod Times. April 19, 2006. Retrieved March 27, 2020.
  19. ^ "SSA Sells Ferry to Venezuelan Company in $3.9 Million Deal". Vineyard Gazette. June 26, 2008. Retrieved January 4, 2017.
  20. ^ "Steamship Authority Will Buy Schamonchi; Deal Opens Door to New Bedford Service". (January 11, 2001). Vineyard Gazette.
  21. ^ Ebbert, Stephanie (September 23, 2007). "Sewage concerns shake sound". The Boston Globe. Retrieved March 27, 2020.
  22. ^ Rocheleau, Matt (2018-05-11). "Cancellations on Martha's Vineyard ferry skyrocket". The Boston Globe. Retrieved 2018-05-11.
  23. ^ Steamship Authority suffers from 'penny-pinching' mentality, report says
  24. ^ "Coast Guard makes more details of ferry crash public". The Cape Cod Times. 12 June 2019. Retrieved 4 August 2019.
  25. ^ "Ferry crashes in Hyannis Harbor". The Boston Globe. 16 June 2017.
  26. ^ "At least nine people were injured in a high-speed ferry crash in Massachusetts". NewsWeek. 17 June 2017.
  27. ^ "At least six injured after ferry crashes into jetty in Mass". USA Today. 17 June 2017.
  28. ^ Hill, Jessica (June 4, 2021). "'Critical lifeline': How Steamship Authority ransomware attack affects ticketing all over". Cape Cod Times. Retrieved 29 June 2021.
  29. ^ "Steamship Authority Says It Did Not Pay Ransom In Disruptive Cyberattack". WBZ Boston. 2021-06-22.

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]